Koji Uehara has shoulder stiffness
NEW YORK -- Boston Red Sox closer Koji Uehara, who had been unscored upon in his first five appearances this season after a historic performance in 2013, reported some stiffness in his right shoulder after playing long toss with fellow Japanese reliever Junichi Tazawa and was kept out of Friday night's game against the New York Yankees.
Manager John Farrell said he did not believe the injury, located in the back of the shoulder, to be serious, saying that the 39-year-old Uehara had not been sent back to Boston for tests "as of yet."
"Before the game today Koji felt a little stiffness in his throwing program, so we felt it best to stay away from him," Farrell said. "Precautionary. This will be a day-to-day type of thing. We'll check with him tomorrow.
"Based on what Koji's expressed, as far as the stiffness, this doesn't seem to be a one-pitch injury type thing. He just felt some stiffness, so we wanted to stay away from him."
Farrell announced Saturday that Uehara would not be available to pitch until Sunday at the earliest.
Uehara said after Friday's game he could have pitched, but didn't want to risk aggravating the condition. He said he felt the stiffness in the same area he did while playing catch on June 10, 2012, when he was with the Texas Rangers. That injury was described as a strained latissimus dorsi, a muscle in his upper back, and he missed 66 games. After his return on Aug. 26, he made 17 appearances for the Rangers and posted a 1.23 ERA, striking out 21 and walking 1 in 14 2/3 innings.
Edward Mujica, who had 37 saves for the Cardinals last season before being replaced as closer in September by Trevor Rosenthal, was summoned in the ninth inning to protect Boston's 4-2 lead over the New York Yankees, and he set down the side in order to register his first save with the Sox.
"He's got a lot of success in that closer's role," Farrell said. "He's got a lot of confidence in that ninth inning and came out with a very good split to keep their lefties off balance and pitched a comfortable ninth inning."
Uehara came to the U.S. in 2009 after 10 seasons with the powerhouse Yomiuri Giants in Japan's Central League, where he was an eight-time All-Star and twice won the Sawamura Award, Japan's equivalent of the Cy Young Award.
Since signing with the Baltimore Orioles in 2009, Uehara has been on the disabled list five times, twice with a strained hamstring, twice with a strained elbow tendon, and with the shoulder/back muscle. The back injury limited him to just 37 appearances (36 innings) in 2012 with the Rangers, who allowed him to depart as a free agent to the Red Sox, who signed him in December of that year.
Uehara, expected to be a setup man for the 2013 Sox, instead became closer when both Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey went down with season-ending surgeries. He then embarked on a season for the ages, posting a 1.09 ERA and the best single-season WHIP (0.57, walks plus hits per inning) in major league history. He also converted all seven of his postseason save opportunities while posting a 0.66 ERA, allowing one earned run -- a home run by Tampa Bay's Jose Lobaton in the ALDS. He led all major league relievers with 44 perfect appearances and all AL relievers with 64 scoreless appearances.
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"Obviously I like Koji running out of the bullpen in the ninth," Sox catcher David Ross said, "but Eddie's done it before and he did a great job tonight, he threw strikes.
"The main thing is guys get hurt in this game. Guys get banged up. We've got to control the things we can control and that's ourselves. We can't worry about the other team, we can't worry about guys who aren't healthy, guys on the bench not playing. We've just got to go out and win with what we have."
Mujica, who also features a splitter and actually displayed better control than Uehara last season (he walked 5 batters in 64 2/3 innings compared to Uehara's 9 walks in 74 1/3 innings), said he was told before the game that he would be closing Friday night.
It was a dramatic improvement over his Sox debut in the home opener last Friday, when he gave up four hits and four runs in the ninth inning and was charged with the decision in a 6-2 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers. That was the most runs he had allowed in an outing since Aug. 4, 2010, against the Dodgers, a span of 220 appearances. He followed that up Sunday in which he allowed an inherited runner to score, giving up a hit and a walk in two-thirds of an inning. He hadn't pitched since.
"The one game I threw against Milwaukee," Mujica said, "those kinds of things are going to happen. The good thing is my arm is good, everything is good. I've been working on my delivery. I was a little bit excited in my first game in Fenway. I told myself to calm down, take a deep breath. I'm ready to go."
The Sox, mindful that Uehara had logged more than twice as many innings than he'd pitched in any season since coming to the U.S., identified the Venezuelan right-hander as someone with closer's experience who could add depth to the back end of the bullpen.
"When I signed with this team they told me we're going to have a lot of opportunities in the pen," he said. "The job I did last year, [they felt] 'Mujica can do the job if Koji goes down.' Everybody [in the bullpen] is ready to do whatever the role."
Said outfielder Jonny Gomes, whose home run touched off Boston's four-run rally in the sixth: "Koji, he's running a pretty historic career the last five years, but it doesn't hurt to hand off the ball to 30-plus saves last year [Mujica]. We're in a good spot. That's a deep bullpen."
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